SwimSwam Pulse: 50% Predict Two Women To Break 58 In 2021 Olympic Back Final

SwimSwam Pulse is a recurring feature tracking and analyzing the results of our periodic A3 Performance Polls. You can cast your vote in our newest poll on the SwimSwam homepage, about halfway down the page on the right side, or you can find the poll embedded at the bottom of this post.

Our most recent poll asked SwimSwam readers to predict how many women would go under 58 in next summer’s Olympic 100 back final:


Question: How many women will go under 58 seconds in the 100 back Olympic final next summer?

  • Zero – 3.3%
  • One – 10.3%
  • Two – 50.4%
  • Three or more – 36.0%

Half of voters predicted that exactly two women would break 58 seconds in the 100 backstroke final at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Our poll came on the heels of Kaylee McKeown becoming just the second woman ever under 58 seconds in the event with a 57.93 at Australia’s Queensland Championships. Perhaps still excited from that huge breakout swim, fans were very optimistic that we’d see the 58-barrier challenged again at next summer’s Olympics.

That very much qualifies as an optimistic prediction, as only two women in the history of the sport have ever broken 58 seconds, and each has done so only once in their careers. On the other hand, both swims were relatively recent. Regan Smith lowered the world record to 57.57 at the 2019 World Championships, and at just 18 years old, still appears to be on a fast-rising improvement curve. Smith went 58.18 at a regular-season Pro Swim Series meet in March, just before the coronavirus pandemic shut down swimming for the summer.

McKeown, meanwhile, just cut down to her 57.93 earlier this month. She’s just 19 right now, and improving quickly. By next summer, Smith will be 19 and McKeown 20, well within their primes to challenge the 57-second range again.

On the flip side, fans tend to be too optimistic about Olympic and world finals as a whole. Often, athletes will swim faster at qualifying meets, or in heats or semifinals, dropping off just a tick in the final. Seeing two swimmers go head-to-head with dueling 57s would be unprecedented in the sport.

Take the 2016 Olympics for example: gold medalist Katinka Hosszu went 58.45 to win, the fastest time in the world for the year. But Kylie Masse went faster on a medley relay (58.66) than she did in the 100 back final (58.76), and silver medalist Kathleen Baker (58.75) was just the 5th-fastest in the world that year.

So even if one expect’s both Smith and McKeown to go 57 again next year, there’s a good chance they don’t both do it in the Olympic final.

On the other hand, even if one of the two favorites falters, there are plenty of other contenders to make their first forays under 58. Baker previously held the world record at 58.00, and she’ll still be just 24 years old by Tokyo. Masse has been between 58.10 and 58.22 an amazing six times in the past four years. And young swimmers like American Phoebe Bacon continue to rise.


Below, vote in our new A3 Performance Pollwhich asks voters to pick the world swimmer of the year for 2020:

Who was the world's best female swimmer in 2020?

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A3 Performance is an independently-owned, performance swimwear company built on a passion for swimming, athletes, and athletic performance. We encourage swimmers to swim better and faster at all ages and levels, from beginners to Olympians.  Driven by a genuine leader and devoted staff that are passionate about swimming and service, A3 Performance strives to inspire and enrich the sport of swimming with innovative and impactful products that motivate swimmers to be their very best – an A3 Performer.

The A3 Performance Poll is courtesy of A3 Performance, a SwimSwam partner

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3 years ago

Hosszu may be stronger in the 200 fly then the 100 and 200 bk just because of how much both backstroke events have progressed where as 200 fly hasn’t as much, if she goes both i.m events and 200 fly she could have a stronger olympics instead of stacking too much into her program

3 years ago

Lilly is my favorite and Reagan has my heart as a fellow Minnesotan, but this one goes to Kaylee for sure. 2021 will be a different animal, but the times she threw down across so many events this fall were just so impressive.

Reply to  Roch
3 years ago

I would be interested to know how fresh she was.

In a typical year she would have been in relatively heavy workload at QLD states one would assume, but it isn’t a typical year. And her lead up meets were ridiculous also, and there is no way she was rested for them.

I doubt we have seen the ceiling for Kaylee.

He Said What?
3 years ago

Phoebe Bacon is going to be Regan’s top challenger. I see them both going 57s at Trials.

The unoriginal Tim
Reply to  He Said What?
3 years ago

At trials it will be a bloodbath. W100 Back has moved on so much since Rio. It is hard to believe Hozzu won and I think that she won’t even final at Tokyo.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

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